2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


1 Comment

Streaming services make charts meaningless

Streaming services like Spotify are making charts meaningless. No matter how many plays they say equals a bought track it’s not the same.

Music fans skipping through a whole album in 3 minutes is not the same as actually buying a CD or vinyl or even a download.

That’s why songs are staying in the charts so long or why one artist (the ginger busker for example) hogged all the chart places.

Not since the 1950s have songs stayed so long in the charts i.e. when  songs like “I believe” by Frankie Lane stayed at No 1 for 18 weeks or “Secret love” by Doris Day (9 weeks) and “Cara Mia” by David Whitfield (10 weeks).

Last year’s single “Despacito” stayed top for 22 weeks as did songs by the afore-mentioned Ed Sheeran, and Drake.

Of course we’ve had other long stays at No 1 when people actually bought records e.g. “Everything I do for you” by Bryan Adams in 1991, “Love is all around” by Wet, Wet, Wet in 1994, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen in both 1975 and 1991. But it seems that’s not going to happen again.

The chief pop and rock critic of The Times (which ran this story) said “The charts are essentially broken. They are no longer a representation of what people actually listen to“.

The way the system works makes it harder for new artists to break into the mainstream because the playlists offer up only a small sample of songs.

Streaming also has an impact on song-writing.

No more three-minute pop songs as streaming services start paying royalties after 30 seconds. So you don’t even have to play a whole song . Which explains how Ed Sheeran’s album dominated all the top 10 spots last year.

Slow build-ups are out. You have to get the hook or the song title in during the first 30 seconds. Like an executive summary so people know what to expect e.g. in Despacito

And choruses (or pre-choruses) had better get in early or, as Spotify’s head of songwriter relations says “if you’re not loving it you’re skipping it”.

An analysis of hundreds of hits over the past 30 years (published in Musicae Scientiae) found that intros averaged about 20 seconds in the mid 80s but only 5 seconds today.

So great songs from the past that wouldn’t get a look in the charts today include “Hotel California”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, Shine on you Crazy Diamond”, “Money for Nothing” and other Dire Straits songs I might add like “Telegraph Road“.

Is it the listening public’s need for instant gratification (brain-damaged by over-using smartphones) or just a commercial ploy by the streaming services. Whichever I don’t like it!


1 Comment

from Major to Minor

American statistician have analysed 120,000 pieces of music and come to the conclusion that the happiest sounds in music – the minor and major 7th chords – are dying out. And lyrics are becoming sadder since the 1950s.

Pop songs are usually written using a mixture of major and minor chords. In the 1950s the four-chord sequence often featured in doo-wop music was  very popular. A major chord followed by its relative minor, then up to the subdominant 4th (or its relative minor) before moving to the dominant fifth usually with a 7th. e.g. C – Am -F – G7 or C – Am – Dm -G7.

Think of songs like “Blue Moon“, or “Where have all the flowers gone“. And more recently Wham’s Xmas song “Last Christmas” which uses only those four chords throughout the song.

Generally speaking minor chords sound sadder than major chords. Apparently 60 years ago the dominant 7th chord outnumbered minor chords. FYI a dominant 7th chord is a major chord with a minor 7th on top of it e.g. C – E – G – Bb. Think of white piano keys. Middle C  (Root) then 2 keys up to E (major 3rd) then two more keys up to G (Major 5th) then miss next white key and add next black key Bb (minor 7th).

I think that could be due partly to the fact that dominant 7th chords are frequently used in what are called turn-arounds i.e. the music at the end of each verse which leads into the next verse. Dominant 7th chords have a tension which needs resolving by moving to a major (or minor) chord. Think of Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” which is played with dominant 7ths crying out for resolution on the last line of each verse.

Also many songs written in a “twelve bar blues” format would feature the dominant 7th e.g. “Lucille” or “What’d I say“.

Perhaps surprisingly what the scientists found was that the chords most associated with upbeat words were minor 7th chords i.e. like a dominant 7th but with a flattened 3rd e.g. C – Eb – G – Bb. These were widely used in soul and disco music in the 1970s. The major 7th chord was also popular at that time.

They say that music became grimmer since guitar music became popular although that might be changing a little now. And with that the increase in the use of minor chords, the huge decrease in the use of dominant chords (down from 10% to 1% since the fifties) and the disappearance of the major 7th chord.

The major 7th is a beautiful chord with a bitter sweet dissonance as the major 7th note clashes with the root note e.g. C – E – G – B. You can hear it at the beginning of Chicago’s “Colour my world”, and in the Beatle’s song “Misery” as they sing that word.

You’ll hear a combination of major and minor 7th chords in Glen Campbell’s “By the time I get to Phoenix” and in “Valerie” by the Futons and Amy Winehouse.

And in jazz standards it’s a common feature e.g. “Every time we say goodbye”

So let’s not write these chords off just yet. Leonard Cohen knew what he was talking about in “Hallelujah” and what do statisticians know about music anyway?


Leave a comment

Songs about songs

Chatting to Barrie the other day about Leonard Cohen‘s masterpiece “Hallelujah” I remarked that in the first verse he actually describes the chord structure in the song (perhaps to remind his guitarist when to make the changes?).

This is part of the first verse:

   C                   F        G
It goes like this, the 4th, the 5th,
    Am                 F
The minor fall and the major lift, etc...

So Cohen is describing the actual chord structure in the key of C in which the fourth is F, the fifth is G, and the relative minor is Am.

The other one that springs to mind is Justin Currie’sEvery song’s the same” which  starts off;

Let me teach you how to write a song 
The first line must be brief but strong 
And the second line should rhyme
With something in your baby's heart

and he goes on to say;

Let me show you how to write a tune 
The first note should mean the world to you 
And the second one should come 
Like an arrow out of a dream 

So not as specific as Cohen’s approach but it makes sense.
Are there any other songs out there which work like this? Meta-songs (songs about songs).